Stroke Length – How Long Is Too Long #SwimTechTues

Stroke Length – How Long Is Too Long #SwimTechTues

For many years people have strived for a longer stroke length through the water. In many endurance sports a key focus is longer distance for each stroke or stride. But at what point does stroke length become TOO long?

The answer really is “IT DEPENDS“.

This comes down to reach/arm span, shoulder control/flexibility, strength, and your kinaesthetic or body awareness.

[bctt tweet=”We’re all on a continuum of how long your stroke should be, or how fast your cadence is. You don’t have to be at one extreme or the other” username=”@Tri_coaching”]

What Is Stroke Length

Stroke length is the distance that you travel for each arm “pull” on the water. Because of water’s density, your upper limit of stroke length is your arm span.

Stroke Length

                     The Vitruvian Swimmer

In reality though, most people don’t have the control of the water, or the strength to get near this.

What most end up doing is reaching as far forward as they can – to maximise the length that the arm can pull through. This can have more of a negative effect than a positive, as it results in less efficient or less useful body positions.

Stroke length over reach

This swimmer is overreaching and as a result his elbow is below both wrist and shoulder

As you can see in the image above, at the point where the swimmer is at his longest – ie with the arm stretched forward – his elbow is below his hand. This is going to make it very difficult to do anything more with his pull than drag his elbow backward, not making the use of his forearms as a paddle, or being able to use so much of the larger muscles in his back. It will also likely cause him to stall at the front and make life harder to keep that constant motion of his stroke – so slowing him down.

What To Do

When you overreach, you have less control over your arm, and that point will come at different stages depending on how flexible you are through your shoulders.

Try this: stand up straight and lift your arm above your head. It should feel reasonably comfortable (hopefully!). Now if you reach up as high as you can, see where the rest of your body ends up. For most people shoulders end up around ears and the body starts to arch to one side. From this, when you are swimming focus on reaching forward (without stretching) from your hips rather than your shoulder – it should help maintain that core control, keep your stroke straighter and prevent your elbow from dropping down. It may help also to aim for a point 3-4 inches below the surface to make sure that your hand is always slightly below your elbow.

If you’re swimming drills, try catch up. With both arms out in front you can make sure that they are level and below the surface. You could do 6 kicks to 1 pull (6-1-6) to practise maintaining a straight line from hip to hand. Or you could do an entry point scull – again with a focus on relaxed shoulders. Whatever drill you do, make sure that it feels comfortable; it’s about finding the position that works for you.

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If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

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Skill Aquisition, Deliberate Practise #SwimTechTues

Deliberate practise is a conscious focus, awareness, and adjustment of your movements with the goal of perfecting the movement. It is a continuous cycle of evaluation, modification, adjustments, reflecting, evaluating and making further refinements.

Once you have mastered one flaw, you move on to the next. Sounds like what we do with our swim stroke right?

Deliberate Practise

Deliberate Practise in Swimming

Obviously we need deliberate practice.

We need to analyse our swimming with coaches or using video to see what our body is doing in the water; there needs to be conscious of our balance in the water, rotation, and high elbow; we need to control our effort and paces. Especially for beginners, your stroke needs constant analysis and refinement. As you swim, you need to think about your stroke and hold it in the forefront of your mind.

Deliberate practice though can be exhausting and overwhelming, so we also need flow in our swimming–where we just let go of everything analytical and just be with our stroke.

Deliberate Practise

Being able to flow with your stroke is where it becomes more natural

From Deliberate Practise to Flow

Sometimes you just need to “swim”, and forget about all the little bits and pieces that you’ve been thinking about to correct your stroke. This is where I like to get athletes doing 50s, 100s or other distance reps, starting with a drill and then finishing on full stroke. On the full stroke, I don’t actually want you to think too much. The idea is that hopefully the drill exaggerates a part of your stroke enough that the technique resides in the subconscious part of your brain for you to feel it when you swim on the following length.

Try this – for thinking about rotation in your stroke from the hips – do 25 metres kick as rotator kick then do 75 normal easy full stroke, and just swim without concentrating on anything. For thinking about getting hold of the water and a good solid engagement/catch, you could do half a length scull, 1 and a half lengths swim. In each case, the drill gives you your deliberate practise. You focus on one element of your swim. In then doing the full stroke you can aim for that easy flow and relax into your technique.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Textbook Technique And Why It Doesn’t Exist #SwimTechTues

It’s not lost on me that the title of this post will raise some eyebrows. The title shouldn’t be taken too literally; I do feel there are ideal approaches, methodologies, and “rules” to consider when coaching any part of your swim stroke

I do believe there are some universal tenets to coaching body postion, good kick or a powerful pull that will not only allow a client or athlete to enjoy all its benefits, but to do so in a fashion that won’t increase their likelihood of injury.

I’m interested in making people fast and strong, but I’m also interested in the long-game. It wouldn’t bode well for business (or my reputation) if all of my client’s swim strokes looked like this:

aid160540-728px-swim-a-50-yard-freestyle-step-6

 

To that end, with regards to universal tenets for freestyle – and swimming as a whole:

Get the body high in the water – preferably with a straight back

Keep the legs long and hidden behind the body
If you’re following these two golden rules, you’re doing a better job than most. It’s sad, but true.

However, golden rules aside, there are many intricate, more nuanced things to consider person to person. One’s comfort and happiness in the water comes to mind. We can’t hold someone who’s scared of the water to the same standard as someone who’s been a competitive swimmer for 17 years.

Likewise, someone with a vast and delicate history of shoulder or back issues is not going to take the same path as someone with a “clean” health history. And, of course, other factors come into play such as goal(s), movement quality, and anatomical/structural differences between individuals.

There are many, many fantastic resources out there that help to break down anatomy, assessment, biomechanics, joint positions, and what’s considered ideal swim technique. I have my biases as to what I feel is correct – as does everyone – but it’s important to take every resource with a grain of salt, because…

[Tweet ““Textbook technique only exists in a textbook.””]

Textbook technique, in the real world, is every bit as much of a myth as barefoot running being the answer to all your running problems, or buying a £10,000 bike being the reason you WILL ride like a pro cyclist.

What we read or deem as “ideal” on paper, while often a great starting point for many people, doesn’t always translate to real-life. As coaches it’s important to understand this. Anytime we corner ourselves into one-train of thought or that any one thing applies to everybody, we’re doing the industry – and our athletes – a disservice.

A Real-Life Example

A few months ago I started working with a guy who had real shoulder issues and swimming was aggravating them. He was frustrated because no matter what he did (or who he worked with), his shoulders got sore.

When people are starting a session, I like to be a fly on the wall. I want to see what their default movement patterns are. I let the athlete do a 100m warm up at his own pace, and while his stroke wasn’t the worst that I had seen, I could see why his shoulders were bothering him.

We established that his range of movement and flexibility around the shoulders wasn’t great – and yet he was trying to keep his elbows super high while reaching so far that his elbows and shoulders were collapsing into the water. Added to this the athlete was rolling all the way round onto his side to try and get air in, breathing every third stroke.

2 of the things this gentleman was doing are things that many people will read/hear and try to emulate; the long stretched out stroke and the high elbow recovery. Bilateral breathing also requires more oxygen/relaxation than many athletes can maintain.

However non of those things ABSOLUTELY HAS TO HAPPEN. Just because Michael Phelps or Ian Thorpe have high recovering elbows and long loping strokes, doesn’t mean that you should. Instead, work within the bounds of what you as an athlete – or the athlete in front of you can do.

With the athlete above, I got him to engage his core. This helped keep his whole body high in the water requiring less rotation to try and breath. I had him take straight arm recoveries meaning that his arms were far more relaxed. Equally it helped to stop over reaching meaning that he maintained control and forward momentum, without stressing his shoulders.

Takeaway

I hope people can appreciate the narrow-mindedness of this type of thinking. To expect everyone to fit into the same scheme or way of doing things because that’s what YOU prefer to do (or because a textbook told you to do so) is about as narrow-minded as it comes.

No one has to breathe bilaterally.

Likewise…

No one has to swim with a high elbow recovery.

No one has to kick 2 beat kick even though they are a triathlete.

And no one has to start watching Planet Earth on BBC. Except, yes you do.

I’d argue a “good” coach understands and respects that everyone is different, and that he or she will be humble enough to put their own personal biases in their back pocket and appreciate there is no ONE way to perform any stroke or part of the stroke. Cater the style to the athlete, and not vice versa.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

We Don’t Want To Glide #SwimTechTues

Glide is a word that is synonymous with swimming, especially swimming effortlessly. Athletes always say that they want to glide through the water, talking about making their swimming easier. But actually gliding might not be such good thing when you want to swim faster and stronger.

Glide freestyle

What Does The Word Glide Mean?

The word glide means to move smoothly and continuously along, as if without effort or resistance. The problem with swimming is that you are always going to have resistance (even if you reduce it as far as humanly possible), so the moment you stop providing propulsion – or more likely have stops or pauses in you stroke – then you will be slowing down.

If your body slows down as you move through the water (rather than maintaining steady momentum) you have two issues; firstly your body will sink in the water slightly – adding resistance and also making it more difficult to breath. Secondly, if you are slowing down it takes more effort, power and control to generate the extra speed. This tends to cause issues like dropping your elbows, or grabbing at the water

Instead, you should focus on keeping your hands and arms moving at all times. That doesn’t mean that they need to be moving fast, but constant motion (with a good hold on the water) should lead to constant movement in your swimming. I like to think of a freestyle (or backstroke or butterfly too) pull as similar to that of a cam mechanism – the wheel is always turning, but the movement of the mechanism comes at different speeds depending on the part of the cycle.

 

If your hold on the water is good, then think about placing your hand in the water “softly”, displacing and splashing as little water as possible. From here you can engage automatically with the water, get your elbow high and wide and then accelerate the water back toward your hips. The smoother you go through this action, the less hard you have to work and the better propulsion you get.

Takeaway

To feel like you’re gliding through the water is good. But unless you are swimming breaststroke then you don’t really want to glide while swimming each individual stroke. Think about constant movement, even if your hands move a little slower around the entry point of your stroke.

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!

Should You Learn Bilateral Breathing? #SwimTechTues

Have you been told or read that you should learn bilateral breathing? Do you know what bilateral breathing is?!

bilateral breathing

What Is Bilateral Breathing?

Bilateral breathing is breathing to both sides. It normally equates to breathing on an odd number of strokes – 3, 5, 7 etc. It CAN be really useful in keeping your stroke even and help you maintain a straight line as you swim. Additionally the swimmers who tend to get shoulder/neck injuries and problems tend to be the swimmers who only breath to one side – a feature of poorer posture and reliance on one side doing the majority of the work.

[Tweet “Breathing to one side CAN potentially increase the risk of overuse injury”]

However I’d argue that breathing bilaterally is not a necessity and could potentially hold athletes back in the water. Especially with (but not confined to) new swimmers, there are so many things to try and focus on that breath control becomes really difficult, and trying to hold on to breathing every third stroke results in very quick fatigue.

In most sports, we don’t have to work very hard to get oxygen. But in swimming, specifically in freestyle , we have to turn our head to get air.

bilateral breathing

Maintaining good posture and a straight spine will keep your stroke as smooth as possible while breathing.

Cycling or running at maximal exertion requires between 50 and 60 breaths per minute. If you are swimming anywhere from 400 metres to 2.4 miles, chances are your stroke rate is 50 to 60 strokes per minute. If you are an alternate breather, breathing every third stroke (1:3 ratio), your respiratory rate is only 20 breaths per minute. A swimmer taking 60 strokes per minute and breathing to one side on every stroke cycle (1:2 ratio) takes only 30 breaths per minute, far below the body’s chosen rate.

So it’s not surprising that maintaining bilateral breathing can potentially be a challenge!

[Tweet “Breathing bilaterally severely reduces your body’s chance to get oxygen.”]

When coaching I prefer to focus on making sure that the swimmer in front of me has a balanced stroke – that both the left side and right side are doing the same thing, that the core and spine are staying straight and not bending round to one side or another. From there you can ensure that general breathing technique is good. The next step is to make sure that when breathing, you don’t let your hand cross under your body. My favourite drill is to swim with out breathing, and slowly reduce the number of strokes between breaths. Try to maintain the smoothness as you add in more breaths per length!

Obviously it is a great asset to be able to breath to both sides; specially in open water where waves, wind or bright sunshine could make breathing one way more difficult.

[Tweet “Breathing bilaterally is a useful skill but not a necessity.”]

If you have any questions or comments, please feel free to get in touch; either by email, facebook or leave a comment on here! Remember, you can always get your swimming reviewed in  the endless pool with our video swim analysis packages.

See what’s up next week for our #SwimTechTues tip!